Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Walter Reuther's original role with the UAW.
WASHINGTON -- Alan Reuther, the UAW's chief Washington lobbyist for nearly two decades, said today he plans to retire at the end of the union convention this week.
He will be replaced by Barbara Somson, his deputy for the last 11 years, Reuther said in a phone interview today.
“It felt like it was time,” he said. “Barbara's done a tremendous job, and she will continue to do a tremendous job.”
The UAW's convention in Detroit to elect officers and regional directors, and set a program of action for union members, is due to end tomorrow.
Reuther, 60, has led the union's efforts to influence Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations on the government-funded bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. The UAW sacrificed jobs and benefits to help the two automakers survive.
He also has spearheaded the UAW's decades-long efforts to secure legislation expanding health care benefits. That effort culminated in President Barack Obama's signing of a landmark healthcare bill earlier this year.
“That was one of our major accomplishments,” Reuther said.
Last December, about 130 of the 500 UAW staff members, including Reuther, accepted a special retirement buyout offered by the union to streamline its staff, he said.
The retirement plans were part of a larger package of pay and personnel cuts negotiated by the UAW and its staff, Reuther said.
Reuther's own buyout was “a fairly modest package with no golden parachutes,” similar to that of the others who retired, he said.
Reuther said he plans to continue working, perhaps as a consultant, and is talking to think tanks and other unions about possible employment.
Earlier today, Bob King, 63, was elected the union's new president, replacing the retiring Ron Gettelfinger, 65.
Reuther has headed the UAW's Washington office since 1991. He has worked for the union for 33 years, including 28 years in its Washington office.
Reuther is the nephew of Walter Reuther, one of the union's early leaders and its president for more than two decades until his death in 1970. Alan's father, Roy, was the union's legislative and political director in Detroit and was a leader of the Flint, Mich., sit-down strikes against GM in the mid-1930s.